Five times ‘The Wire’ and politics mixed

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HBO has brought back “The Wire,” the gritty portrayal of drug dealing in Baltimore often called one of the best shows of all time, for a marathon that began on Friday. 

The channel is showing off the newly remastered, high-definition version of the show, and the Twitterverse can follow along with Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s “then and now” photos from the show’s mid-2000s filming in the city.

{mosads}But there’s another reason to dive back into the world of McNulty, Stringer and Omar: The show often intersects with real life politics.

In honor of the marathon, here are five examples:

Obama’s favorite character is Omar

President Obama is a high-profile fan of the show. In a 2012 interview with Grantland’s Bill Simmons, he called it “one of the best shows of all time.” 

He also delved into his favorite character, choosing gay, shotgun-toting Omar Little, who steals from drug dealers and inspires fear on the streets. Omar also adheres strictly to a code that only drug dealers, not those outside “the game,” should be the target of violence.

“It’s got to be Omar, right?” Obama said when asked for his favorite character. “I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?”

David Simon’s offer to Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder, appearing at a drug policy event in 2011 alongside three actors from the show, made an appeal to creators Ed Burns and David Simon.

“I want to speak directly to Burns and Mr. Simon: Do another season of The Wire,” Holder said. ”I have a lot of power Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon.”

Simon then responded to Holder in an email to the Times of London.

“The Attorney-General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon wrote. “I’ve spoken to Ed Burns and we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and de-humanizing drug prohibition.”

Holder has in fact taken action on drug policy, with moves to reduce sentences for drug crimes and to avoid mandatory minimum sentences in some cases.

David Simon testifies before Congress

Simon also had a turn at the witness table in 2009, before the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing on the future of journalism. Simon is a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, and the final, fifth season of “The Wire” tracks fictional Baltimore Sun reporters covering the city. 

Simon made a plea for the need to save traditional shoe leather reporting, despite the changing tides of the Internet. 

“High-end journalism is dying in America and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the web or anywhere else,” he said. 

Martin O’Malley hates “The Wire”

Simon told The Daily Beast last year that the character of Tommy Carcetti, a young white mayor of Baltimore who struggles to maintain his principles as he vaults into the governor’s office, was partly based on Martin O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who became governor and is now considering a run for president.

“The writing was not unsympathetic to a man who comes in with the idea of changing things and emerges a completely different creature,” Simon said. “That was the story [of Tommy Carcetti] and that is the story of Marty O’Malley.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, O’Malley, who has argued he helped turn Baltimore and then the state around, is not a big fan of the show. 

Simon recounts that O’Malley, then mayor, almost blocked production of season two in the city amid concerns about how Baltimore was portrayed.

“I would take issue with whether or not I’m the inspiration for ‘The Wire,’ ” O’Malley told MSNBC in 2009. “I’m the antidote to ‘The Wire.’ ”

O’Malley and Simon take a selfie

But Simon and O’Malley can still catch up and take a selfie when they find themselves on the same Amtrak train. 

In July, Simon wrote on his blog that the two ran into each other on the train, and O’Malley beckoned for him to sit down and chat. 

“We searched for common ground and landed eventually on The Pogues, a band beloved to us both, as well as some mutual memories of the more farcical personages who once held court on the Baltimore City Council,” Simon wrote.

However, one important thing had not changed. 

“He still hates “The Wire” with a taut fury,” Simon wrote. “I suggested he might watch it some years from now, when there was less at stake.”

Tags Barack Obama David Simon Eric Holder The Wire

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